French Open: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ends career as French tennis looks to plant seeds

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There are no French singles seeds at the French Open for the first time in 42 years.

And now there is no more Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a leading French player for years who lost in the first round of his farewell tournament. Casper Ruud, the No. 8 seed from Norway, took out the 37-year-old 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (0).

“The way the crowd support me today, they give me the power to fight, and that’s what I did,” said Tsonga, who announced before Roland Garros that he will retire. “It was emotional for me. It’s going to stay a good moment in my head. In a way I finish like I want to finish.”

Tsonga injured his right shoulder on an otherwise climactic point, breaking Ruud’s serve to go up 6-5 in the fourth. The crowd, unaware of the injury’s extent, serenaded Court Philippe Chatrier with “La Marseillaise” before Tsonga would serve to force a fifth set.

But that broad shoulder, which helped carry Tsonga to No. 5 in the world a decade ago, could not bear any more. Tsonga dropped 11 of the next 12 points, with a medical timeout sandwiched in, to lose the match.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

“There would have been no second match, because I left everything on the court today,” said Tsonga, who last week said his mind and body were telling him it’s time to stop playing. He said after the match the shoulder was so compromised that he could not carry his 10-month-old son.

It has been 39 years since the last Frenchman won Roland Garros (Yannick Noah). It has been 22 years since the last Frenchwoman won Roland Garros (Mary Pierce).

It looks like those droughts will extend several more years.

Gael Monfils, a 35-year-old out with a right foot injury, is the lone French man or woman ranked higher than No. 40 in the world. He’s No. 22. Most of the other French players ranked in the top 100 are veterans who had their chances to make deep major runs.

Tsonga made the second week of at least one major for 11 consecutive years. He is the lone Frenchman to make a major final in the last 21 years. He played for the 2008 Australian Open title, becoming the first of nine players to lose to Novak Djokovic in a final in Melbourne.

Tsonga was 22, just two years older than Djokovic. It appeared he would get more bites at the apple. L’Equipe believed so in a front-page headline.

“I was a fighter,” said Tsonga, who shed soccer to focus on tennis after watching France win the 1996 Davis Cup on TV. “I was also somebody human.”

Tsonga reached five more major semifinals, and nine other quarterfinals, but couldn’t break into the elite of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. He is one of three men to beat all four at a major. He also lost to them 17 times combined at the Slams.

Others can sympathize. Including the rest of the New Musketeers, the quartet of mid-1980s babies who were supposed to resurrect French men’s tennis and certainly carried it for the last 15 years.

Richard GasquetGilles Simon, Tsonga and Monfils all had their moments, and once more on court together in Tuesday’s retirement ceremony.

“I finally managed to cry,” said Tsonga, who received a trophy that represents a cross-section of Court Philippe Chatrier. “When I watch the images again afterwards I will be very moved.”

Tsonga and Gasquet were on France’s Davis Cup champion team in 2017. None of the four ever lifted a major individual trophy in the most top-heavy era in men’s tennis history, but they all reached the top seven in the world rankings.

“With Richard, with others, we have known each other since we were 11 years old, 12 years old,” Tsonga said. “We grew up together. We won together. These are the most beautiful stories.”

And now Tsonga is retired. Simon said this is his final season. Monfils, soon to be a father, has been up and down the last several years.

Gasquet won Tuesday, setting up a second round match with American Seb Korda, who is 14 years younger. If Gasquet upsets the American, he would play Friday on the 20th anniversary of his French Open main draw debut, when he took a set off eventual champion Albert Costa of Spain.

It was the first Grand Slam main draw match of the Four Musketeers era. If not a golden generation, it proved to be an unforgettable one, with another memory added Tuesday.

“We need more players to come,” Gasquet said after losing in the second round to Nadal at last year’s French Open. “Of course we are a great generation. I hope it will be the same for the French future.”

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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